At a recent book presentation, someone asked me what training I had. It gave me pause. How did I learn to write?
As a withdrawn and unhappy child, reading was my escape. I read everything I could get my hands on (yes, even the proverbial cereal box). While I fell in love with writing (what a wonder; a world I could control) in the fourth grade, I had no writing instruction through high school. I can only have learned how to write by reading, and practice. Because I did write. I wrote terrible poetry and sappy love stories for my sisters and myself. I took on projects in school that required writing. I earned recognition in a Scholastics Magazine writing competition. I forged ahead as if I knew what I was doing.
Fortunately, my first two years of college, at Northwestern Michigan Community College, I had an inspired and inspiring writing instructor. Al Shumsky probably never knew how much his comments on my weekly writing assignments meant to a person starved for validation and honest, knowledgeable criticism. On one paper, he wrote that I had the potential to be a really good writer if I persevered. That one comment was probably the most important factor in my eventual success.
Because the eight years that I taught school, I had no energy left for writing and almost gave up. My next job, however, was editorial assistant on a magazine, where I honed my writing skills. A move ended that job and I took five years to try and make some money writing. I found an excellent writer’s critique group to keep me on track, but it didn’t happen, and I had to go back to work. Still, it was practice, practice, practice, with a completed novel (even though unpublishable) at the end of it.
That was pretty much the extent of my training except for reading all I could find about successful writing, reading the type of novels I wanted to write, attending writing conferences when I could, and more practice, practice, practice, until I could retire early and zero in on writing something I could believe other people would enjoy reading.